MONDAY, Jan. 23, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The proportion of overdose deaths involving buprenorphine did not increase in association with actions taken to facilitate access to buprenorphine-based treatment for opioid use disorder during COVID-19, according to a study published online Jan. 20 in JAMA Network Open.

Lauren J. Tanz, Sc.D., from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study to examine whether buprenorphine-involved overdose deaths changed after implementation of prescribing flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers found that 32 jurisdictions reported 89,111 overdose deaths and 74,474 opioid-involved overdose deaths, including 1,955 buprenorphine-involved overdose deaths during July 2019 to June 2021; these accounted for 2.2 percent of all drug overdose deaths and 2.6 percent of opioid-involved overdose deaths. Compared with other opioid-involved decedents, a higher proportion of buprenorphine-involved overdose decedents were female, were non-Hispanic White, and resided in rural areas. Monthly opioid-involved opioid deaths increased, but no increase was seen in the proportion involving buprenorphine during July 2019 to June 2021. Compared with other opioid-involved overdose decedents, buprenorphine decedents were more likely to be receiving mental health treatment (31.4 versus 13.3 percent).

“The findings of this cross-sectional study suggest that actions taken by the U.S. federal government to facilitate access to buprenorphine-based medications for opioid use disorder during the pandemic were not associated with an increased proportion of overdose deaths involving buprenorphine, providing evidence to inform discussions on permanent adoption of COVID-19-related buprenorphine prescribing authorities,” the authors write.

One author disclosed owning stock in General Electric, 3M, and Pfizer.

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